Monday, February 12, 2007

Journey of Grief

[The following post is taken from Frank's message at the Reformed Theological Seminary/Orlando chapel service on February 6, 2007. ]

The past months have been harrowing for my family and for me. I am profoundly and deeply touched by the outpouring of prayers and support. Many have sent communications that ministered to my heart in very special ways.

I tell people who never met Kelly that they would have liked him. He marched to the beat of a different drummer. Not many in my circles knew I had a 48-year-old brother with hair down to his shoulders. His wife’s girlfriends called him Tarzan. He dressed like a rock star, and his musical taste ranged from Sinatra to Social Distortion. Of course his three brothers had no mercy and made fun of him regularly. It was like water off a duck's back. Our teasing never fazed him. Kelly was something I never was. Kelly was cool. He would have really loved all the media attention. It was just like Kelly to make a grand exit.

Although I did not share his flamboyant style, we did share a common faith that went back to our high school days. I know he is enjoying sweet fellowship with the Lord. But I must confess he leaves a big hole in my life.

Grief is a strange beast. Some who have lost loved ones tell me you never get over it. I guess I will find out. Now I am on the journey of grief. One might expect that the grief would lead to bitterness against God. After all, we prayed and publicly declared our faith in God, and yet Kelly is gone. But that has not happened.

There is disappointment, numbness, sadness and confusion. And yet, there is what I call a kind of gravitational pull toward God. No doubt that is the Holy Spirit drawing me. This gravitational pull especially has drawn me to the Psalms. David has become a companion in grief. There is something profoundly genuine about David who can say to God: “How long, O lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1).

Somehow David’s journey of grief always led back to God as he declares at the end of the same Psalm: “But I trust in your unfailing love” (Ps 13:5). Even as he pleads with God to “show up,” David acknowledges God. David combines brutal honesty with a defiant grasping faith. He juxtaposes disappointment with God and hope.

It is paradoxical that David would trust a God who hides Himself when David needs Him most. But I sense that David had different kind of relationship with God—a more intimate relationship than many American Evangelicals understand. It is honest and emotional. It is mysterious. It is a relationship where spiritual formulas and pious platitudes have no place.

David begs God to come to his rescue and David waits and waits—Have you ever noticed how many Psalms are about waiting? David anguishes and agonizes about his fate. Amid all this spiritual consternation, in the shadow of death, God manifests Himself in the grief. He is somehow in the disappointment, the confusion, and the raw emotions. This does not exactly make sense to me. I don’t understand this spiritual dynamic and I am not even sure I like it. But the gravitational pull toward God seems strongest when our hearts are broken.

I must remind myself to keep Kelly’s death in context. When Kelly died in mid-December, there were many other deaths that week and in far more tragic circumstances. Many died that same week in Darfur, and many young girls endured a living death in the sex-trade in Southeast Asia.

Kelly followed his passions. He enjoyed the freedom and possessed enough resources to pursue his passion for climbing mountains. He was very fortunate to go out doing something he loved. Many others died from genocide, brutality and persecution. I must not forget that there are things worse than freezing to death on a mountain.

RTS/O Chapel
6 February 2007


QQ said...

This is a very cool message. Thank you. helen qiu

Anonymous said...

As an RTS student, I am incredibly grateful that your husband addressed our seminary family this past Wednesday. I admire the strength it took and still takes for you both to speak into this situation. I had the privelege of helping to lead worship that morning, and I can't adequately describe the sense of God's presence there--that Frank had spoken, but he had a chance to sit down, rest, breathe in the songs of the people around him...and most of all the songs that God himself was singing over him--over you both. It was a blessing to be there and to look out at classmates who I know are look into my own heart and see pain and great longing there...What a comfort to sing the songs of lament with a family. It was good not to be alone. I thank you both for opening your hearts to us.


lauren said...

This is indeed a message from a broken heart, and God loves and will comfort a broken heart, for this is the only sacrifice he requires. You are courageous to try to bring "context" to your brother and brother-in-law's death; but, if I might presume to do so, I would encourage you to bear the pain of his individual death and its terrible closeness to you, without diluting it with remote contexts that cannot reach and pain you as deeply.

My prayers for the smiling face to come out from behind the frowning providence proceed on your behalf. May God comfort your broken hearts while keeping Kelly's memory alive therein.

Anonymous said...

I realize that the photos that these gentleman took on the mountain are very personal, but would there be any way to share 1 or 2 so that all those who follow and care so deeply about these 3 men, can get a sense of the happiness that they may have had on this fateful journey?